Today was an emotionally-challenging day for our entire team. We spent the morning preparing for our community lecture and had a discussion about trauma-informed teaching. Because we are working with Syrian and Iraqi refugees who have experienced much trauma, we want to ensure that we are doing everything we can to be sensitive to the trauma the families have experienced and to avoid re-traumatizing any children we serve.
Similar to autism, trauma can manifest as sensory oversensitivity and disrupt children’s ability to process verbal language. Fortunately, the behavior supports we teach are the same as those that are used as best practices for trauma-informed teaching. Still, we are dedicating extra attention to creating safe environments for the children and families and to being consistent in our expectations and consequences. We are also digging deeper into “attention-seeking” behavior and paying special attention to the things the children we serve may be trying to communicate.
We had a small group for our community lecture today that included a doctor and a student from a local university. We also had a number of parents attend as a make-up if they missed the “What is autism?” lecture last week. Participants enjoyed the activities during the presentation and had fun trying to communicate detailed messages without speaking or writing. One participant mentioned that prior to attending our lecture, he had believed a doctor who told him that television caused his son to have autism. Now, he said, he knows that this is not true.
After the lecture, we had some very difficult conversations with families that left us all feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Through these conversations, we were confronted with the limits of what we are able to provide for these families relative to what they need. While something is better than nothing, it is heartbreaking to see the needs of the families we serve and how far society has to go to meet them. They left everything behind to flee for their lives, and now, in their new reality, some of them are wondering whether they should have stayed and confronted death.
We are putting a band-aid on challenges that refugee families face raising children with autism, but at the end of the day, when we peel that band-aid off and look into the countless layers of the refugee experience, deep scars remain. How can we create a world that is supportive and conducive to the learning, social and emotional needs of all children? Let us know that you think.